Paralympian Anastasia Pagonis has been swimming even before she became blind at age 14. But losing her vision did not stop her from pursuing her love for the sport.
“It took me about eight months to kind of regroup myself,” Pagonis told TODAY in an interview. “And then I got it in my head, ‘Okay, I’m blind. Now what am I going to do with my life?'”
Pagonis grew up in Long Island, practically next to water. It took a toll on her when she lost her sight. She had therapy right after and continued swimming, but what she really wanted was to compete.
She took up competitive freestyle swimming a few months prior to going totally blind. Although she continued to excel in the sport, she quit the competition due to an “abusive team” atmosphere.
“Nobody wanted to train the blind girl,” she told in an interview with TEAM USA. “I ended up after about eight months finding an amazing coach who was willing to train me and actually put on blackout goggles to try to figure out a way for me to swim.”
Two years later, Pagonis won two gold medals at the World Para Swimming World Series in Australia. Although she continues to bag medals for her talent, she still felt lonely training in the waters.
Luckily, the New York Islander’s Puppies with Purpose Program, which is a nonprofit organization in conjunction with Guide Dog Foundatiion, was about to have its first graduate, a Labrador Retriever named Radar.
With the pandemic going on across the world, Pagonis and Radar teamed up to train at her home.
“I’m so lucky to have Radar,” Pagonis told GNN. “He has given me my independence back and is my partner in crime!”
Thanks to her new fur-buddy, Pagonis will be a resident athlete at Colorado’s Olympic Paralympic Training Center with a goal of competing in the Tokyo 2021 Games.